The Vampire Lestat here. I have a story to tell; but this one isn't meant for mortals to read, and not really for other immortals either. Perhaps I will never even commit the words to paper, leaving them in that twilight nowhere that exists within my magical twentieth-century computer with its great unblinking glass eye. It's a story I must tell only for my own sake, my own comfort... a secret history of sixty-five years in New Orleans.
These years have been chronicled already, of course, in the sad little memoir Interview with the Vampire, spun from the lips of my beloved fledgling Louis de Pointe du Lac. He gave a deeply felt if rather inconsiderate account of how I, cast as the callous villain of his tale, made him a vampire. He told of how we created Claudia, a true child of darkness, when she was not even six years old. He spoke of our contentment for sixty-five years that passed like a languorous dream, and how Claudia put an end to it by attempting to put an end to me.
Yet his story is riddled with mistakes, misunderstandings, and vast omissions. These omissions could only be deliberate, though whether he left things out due to discretion or due to regret, I still don't know and can't bear to ask.
But I can no longer look at that crippled little paperback on my shelf without wishing to tell my own version of that time, most particularly the secret history between us that Louis could not bring himself to relate. Even if the tale remains only here, in the cloistered space between my own eyes and the window of my computer screen, it must be told.
The first I knew of Louis de Pointe du Lac was a drunken, belligerent voice in a ramshackle tavern on the outskirts of New Orleans.
I was hunting by habit in the worst sort of gambling parlors and houses of ill repute. Tonight no one at the Taverne du Chat Noir was quite bad enough to tempt me. I'd promised myself to follow in the example of Marius, who slew only the evildoer to feed his thirst. Marius had lived for two thousand years, he kept ancient secrets; Marius had cast me out only months ago. I loved the New World but I mourned the chance I'd squandered to know a mind that had lasted for millennia.
Tonight, though, choosing from among the rogue's gallery at the bar seemed pointless. There were a few murderers among the crowd, I could sense the carnage of their thoughts. But how could I pass judgement on them, choosing which was most evil from the lot, the most deserving of death? I had committed all their sins and more, a thousand times over. I felt the purpose that Marius had instilled in me slipping away gradually, night by night.
Go live a lifetime, he'd told me. A lifetime! What could that mean to a creature like me, sleeping by day, killing each night-- a lifetime? What manner of life could I possibly lead? With the blood of the Mother of us all burning in my veins, with the vision of her lingering constantly in my thoughts... Akasha, whose embrace was like a circle of fire.
Marius told me I would make more fledglings in the wilderness of America. "Choose your companions with care," Marius had instructed me, "choose them because you love them." Fine advice, as though my flayed and beaten heart could still love after the past thirty years of terrible betrayal. "Choose them because you like to look at them and you like the sound of their voices," as though I could look at any being without seeing Akasha's marble face, hear any voice without recalling the murmuring cacophony of her thoughts...
"Are you calling me a cheat?" a young man said. The words were slurred, but the tone held a seed of deadly calm.
I stood from my table on the rickety balcony that stretched over the main room and extended over the sagging porch. A little tumult was breaking out below, a table overturned, a man growling threats. I looked down on the scene below.
All things are beautiful to a vampire's sight. When we receive the Dark Gift it's as though the scales fall from our eyes and we see as only God should see, in divine appreciation of every aspect of creation. As God would see, if there were a God.
Yet the decaying tavern, full with men who poisoned themselves with liquor that burst the little veins in their cheeks and noses, and women caked with paint and powder in a parody of femininity, the grimy glory of that low place-- it all flattened as I looked down on him, a dull scene painted hastily on a dusty scrim.
His expression arrested me. At a glance he was not so different from a thousand other young men of this city, clearly of French descent, well-dressed with a rapier hanging at his side like mere ornament. Yet as I looked at him, it was as though I'd never seen these other men, as though I'd never seen Nicolas, or Marius, Armand or Akasha or Gabrielle-- as though I had never seen at all before in my life, mortal or undead.
He was so young, and his face was incandescent with pain; pain faceted and many-parted like a mosaic, and as broken. Grief and loss and guilt had made a home in his handsome features and made him appear almost holy. His green eyes burned; he was mesmerizing, brimming with a despair as dark and fathomless as the midnight shade of his wavy hair.
Yet he was terrible to look upon. His suffering was too evident, too naked; it ate at the nerve endings just to see him, to know that there exists an agony so absorbed and so complete.
There was a click as loud in my ears as a whip crack, and I realized that this young man was on the verge of being shot. The overturned table lay at his feet, pasteboard cards scattered all around, and his opponent was aiming a pistol at his chest. The entire assembly held their breath.
"Do it," the young man said, a low voice, coaxing, intimate. Another endless moment and he tore at his shirt, baring his chest to the gun. "Do it!"
His every aspect was expressive, and his every expression said Let it happen quickly; let it happen now. In the face of this dire hopelessness, the other man quailed. He lowered his gun and turned away. The people went back to their liquor and cards and sport all too quickly, eager to forget such desolation. My young friend slumped in his chair, bereft.
One of the painted ladies of the tavern came to him, draped herself over his shoulders like a cape, and managed to pull him out of the chair and direct him out of doors, rounding a corner into the alley nearby. Only when he passed out of my sight did I rouse myself enough to follow.
I circled around through the back door and approached them veiled in darkness, watching keenly as the whore guided him a little way between buildings and pushed him against the wall. Even this jaded lady of the night seemed somehow moved by him; she paused in her pursuits and simply touched his face with an attitude of wonder. But he was staring blankly past her, the fire in him beginning to fade.
She made a few token caresses, spoke a few obscene words; he pushed money into her hand as though she were a beggar and she would leave now. The woman swiftly set to the task of unbuttoning and untying. My young friend let his head fall back, and the last of his vibrant emotions dropped away. As she tended to him with her lips and hands he looked like a man dying from cold; then, in minutes, like a man distracted by a name he cannot quite remember.
The color in him was maddening. Wine had left him flushed and now the ministrations of the whore affected him as well. He was ripe with blood, an ocean of luscious fluid circulating just under the sweltering skin. When the crisis came over him, he shivered deeply, his brow furrowing, faintly vexed. She refastened and retied his clothes, picked his pocket clumsily and hurried back inside clutching his bankroll to her bosom.
He slid down the wall; I thought he'd passed out from the drink and drew near. But he curled there, huddled in the alley, one arm shielding his face and the other thrown over his head as though to hide himself from the ugly unworthy world. So softly it would take a vampire to hear it, he wept, drawing long shaking breaths and swallowing his sobs.
I opened my mind to hear his, but it was a tormented muddle. A brother named Paul who would never forgive him, I discerned that. Ah, if his tragedy was only guilt over gambling and having some cheap tart, I'd kill him just for wasting my time.
Then he seemed to pull even tighter in on himself and I caught a deeper glimpse into his seething thoughts. His brother Paul had died; Paul had been wholly good, a lamb of God, and his head had broken on a brick staircase. His brother had come to him asking him to do service to God, and he'd laughed. They had argued. Even now, his own family believed he had killed Paul or caused Paul to kill himself. He believed this also, that his refusal to obey Paul's vision had led directly to his brother's death.
A poignant little history, to be sure, but not the true measure of this young man's suffering. I searched further and found him to be the master of a plantation, having taken over as a youth after his father died.
He had been a conventional sort until Paul's death, but his reaction was beyond mere mourning. It was a soul-deep despair that echoed all the realizations of my own darkest moments: the finality of death, the humiliation of mortality, the absence of God or at least God's attention, the meaninglessness and futility of living.
It was as though Paul's faith had been the firmament on which he walked and now it had been torn away and he was endlessly falling towards damnation, yet the very fall itself was Hell. He had found his limits, discovered the banality of himself, and now he recoiled from everything he had been and everything he was. I saw months of tawdry nights like this one, drinking to unconsciousness in dangerous places, putting himself ever in harm's way, seeking to die.
And yet in the midst of this I felt the deepest will to go on, a frantic urge within him that seemed to shout that he must know, he must understand, he must live, for death would bring him none of the answers that he had to, had to have. I felt the thwarted passions and crushing disappointments that had led him to throw himself headlong into self-destruction. I sensed an untouched capacity for love that matched his boundless capacity for pain.
I felt it all, felt it deeply. But I couldn't understand it fully, as though he were hiding some part of it away from even my powers; as though he concealed profound secrets.
I was lost. I didn't recall any of Marius's admonishments or advice now; this one had obliterated all of it. I had sworn to myself that I would be cautious if I made another fledgling, that I would proceed slowly, first befriending my companion and revealing my true nature only in the fullness of time. Ashes. There was nothing in my mind but how best to bring him to me at once.
He stood unsteadily, head bowed, and stumbled back to the tavern to untie his horse, clambering onto its back more through habit than will. Soon he had urged the beast to full gallop, though he could barely keep the saddle under him. I followed easily; his stallion couldn't outpace me, though it seemed to sense my presence, tossing its head in innocent terror.
I watched from afar as he stabled the animal, heard the overseer, himself in his cups, laughing. The overseer was slinging a too-familiar arm around him, saying, "Ah, Louis, I remember what it was like to be young!"
Louis. I heard him try to gather himself and ask a few half-formed questions about the plantation, but his overseer waved it away; "I take care of all that for you now," he said magnanimously. I didn't have to read his mind to know he was a scoundrel, this other man, that he had been pillaging the place in Louis' absence. "Leave all that to me, enjoy yourself," he said contemptuously, hauling the younger man along with him toward the main house. I despised him.
When he realized Louis was near insensate, the overseer handled him roughly and searched the pockets of his coat. Finding nothing, he scowled and stopped near the main gate, unloading the younger man there like a sack of grain and going back to the stable with sour curses.
Appalling; but for my purposes, ideal. I came nearer to Louis as he fumbled with the gate. He was leaning his weight against it and this made it difficult for him to unlatch it properly. He sighed, swaying drunkenly. The slightest sound, that rush of breath, but it inflamed me.
Within moments I had him in my arms, he pushed at me instinctively but it was far too late, I bent to his neck; his skin scorched my hands, so hot and so lush. He stopped struggling as I opened my mouth against his throat. His entire body became perfectly still, the only movement the ceaseless throbbing of his heart. The deepest thrill shot all through me as I closed my teeth on him and pierced his flesh. The blood roared into my mouth, I was deafened with it.
I heard the same recitative from his mind as before, amplified beyond all comprehension, all reason. I focused on the essence in him that sought to go on and on, listened to that secret voice that silently beseeched me not to let him die, that voice speaking on and on with no words. And all this on a current of ecstasy purer than any pleasure of mortal life, the fiery torrent of human blood.
I only just forced myself to pull away in time. He looked up at me with such awe for just a moment; just that moment, before his eyes lost focus and slipped shut, even as he asked,
"But who are you!"
And then he collapsed, no longer conscious. His breathing was labored but his heart thudded on; his body was slack. I cradled him to me like a child. In repose his face retained that almost unbearable beauty, softened a little by sleep.
Perhaps before the death of this brother of his, Louis had merely been very handsome. But the loss had stamped itself on his pleasing, even features and left him with the mark of character, a quality beyond mortal notions of allure. Ineffable and breathtaking, the delicacy of conscience etched in the little details: a slight hollowness that brought his cheekbones into prominence; a small contour between his brows, a legacy from contorting his face in grief.
I felt the morning approaching. I would need time to return to my resting place, extra time because the wine from his blood had left me a little affected as well. Reluctantly I opened my arms and let him wilt to the ground until he rested against the gate. Leaning down to his ear I whispered, "I'll return for you," and then I made my way to my waiting coffin.